Monday, April 12, 2010

Treason

OK, I'll stop doing "this day in history" soon. I promise. But today's too big to let slide. Because 149 years ago on this day self-styled Confederate Soldiers fired on 127 U.S. Army soldiers (13 of them musicians) at Fort Sumter in the harbor in Charleston, South Carolina. There's a word for this. I've been hearing conservative commentators throw it around lately when discussing our current President. Hang on, it's "Treason." Yeah, that's about right.

At any rate, thus began the military conflict that would spark the most successful slave rebellion in North America (as Walter Johnson argued, what else do you call nearly 200,000 African American soldiers, the majority of them previously enslaved, taking up arms against their former masters in a war than ended legal slavery in the United States?).

Real quick, on slavery as a cause of the Civil War: to paraphrase Dr. George Forgie, a former professor of mine in graduate school, of course slavery was the cause of the Civil War, and not "states' rights." Were white southerners fighting for the right to ... Secede? Really? That would be akin to your parents coming home and telling you that they were getting a divorce and when you asked them why they were splitting up, they answered "because we can."

Yet, the Civil War was part of a larger battle over the centralization of political power in the modern nation state. Similar battles were being fought in other newly forming nation-states. In the U.S., it happened to tip the scales of political power in favor of a strong centralized government, a political battle still being fought but with centralized power decidedly in the driver's seat.

So I guess on both counts, it didn't so much turn out like the confederates had hoped. However, I suppose if you're the governor of Texas, you can still try.

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